Advocates extoll the virtues of Amendment 4 in roundtable discussion at USFSP campus

Supporters of expanding the use of solar power in Florida held a roundtable discussion on the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus on Tuesday to discuss how the passage of Amendment 4 next week could crack open resistance to alternative energy sources in the Sunshine State.

Amendment 4 exempts solar devices and equipment from being subject to the personal tangible property tax. A business that currently has solar panels is currently being taxed on the panels or devices in addition to their building. The new amendment — if passed — would exempt businesses with solar panels from paying higher taxes.

“The cost of solar has come down so exponentially, 60 percent to 80 percent in the last decade, and the efficiency is better, and so we’re really in a different conversation and we have the opportunity to do something,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the organization that backed a rival amendment that failed to get on the November ballot.

The other solar measure that did get on the ballot this year is Amendment 1, which will appear on the November ballot. That initiative is not supported by the environmental community, and Amendment 4 advocates made sure not to muddy the waters by talking about that proposal today.

Unlike many proposed constitutional amendments Floridians vote on in November, Amendment 4 made it on the August ballot with a vote by the Legislature, not a citizen-initiated petition drive. The proposed constitutional amendment is being sponsored by St. Petersburg Republicans Jeff Brandes in the Senate; and Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues and Boynton Beach Democrat Lori Berman in the House.

Tory Perfetti, with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs, praised the fact that Amendment 4 has support from people of all different types of ideological stripes. “Some people are coming at Amendment 4 as one more shot at helping forward climate change, and then you have people on my side who … look at climate change data more skeptically. I think the overriding part of this is that though an open energy policy, (it) can lead to benefits for each individual and group in the state as large and diverse as ours.”

“I think this is a great way to give tax breaks to businesses that want to install solar panels, added Darden Rice, vice chair of the St. Petersburg City Council and chair of the council’s Energy, Natural Resources & Sustainability Committee. “It’s one more feather in our cap to help attract and recruit businesses to this area.”

Rice called out two local companies who have installed solar power in their establishments and the savings they will soon enjoy, starting with Great Bay Distributors in St. Petersburg, which last year erected a new warehouse that has the largest commercial rooftop solar array in all of Florida with 4,590 panels. “It’s reduced their electricity costs by 40 percent. It cost them a little more than $2 million to install it, but their payback is gonna be in a little more than six years.”

Mesh Architecture in Lealman is another local business going solar. The firm installed a 100-kilowatt installation with an integrated roof earlier this year. “It really makes sense not to tax the sunshine,” Rice said. “Let’s not tax the solar devices. Let’s not punish businesses for the increased value that they’re going to attain by putting solar panels … let’s use that as a incentive to help businesses do the right thing and save money.”

The solar industry is growing jobs faster than any other sector of the economy, says Wayne Wallace, the proprietor of Solar Source, a solar company that’s been doing business out of Largo since 1984. He said the passage of Amendment 4 would reduce some of the barriers that currently inhibit the growth and development of the solar industry in Florida.

“If Mr. Joe Business owner wants to lower his costs, save money, help homegrown local jobs, and invest in a solar system for his business, he shouldn’t have to pay taxes for it,” Wallace said, summing up why the decision to support the measure was obvious. “Who doesn’t want to save money? And who doesn’t want to help generate jobs in the local economy, and as a fringe, who doesn’t want cleaner air?”

Although Wallace called a cleaner environment as “just a fringe,” it’s a dominant thought amongst the environmental crowd that has been hungering for the Sunshine State to do more with solar than it has to date. Criticism over the years has been generated at the reluctance of public utilities to embrace alternative energy, but with prices continuing to drop precipitously in the past few years, even the utilities are beginning to come around.

“As the cost of solar energy continues to decrease and the efficiency of panels grows, we’re increasing our investments in solar,” said Alex Glenn, president of Duke Energy-Florida last month after Duke opened the Osceola Solar Facility in Osceola County.

“Climate change is real and we have to do something about it,” insisted James Scott, Student Senate president at USFSP. But he said he’s learned that key influential officials on the campus are more interested in the financing and the economics behind clean energy, rather that on the clean energy front. He said that Amendment 4 was a no-brainer, but it would be harder to get the rest of the population to be thinking of a greener, more alternative energy focused state moving into the future.

Sixty percent of votes are need to pass the amendment into law in Florida.

The Florida Legislature does not start its next session until 2017. The amendment would go into effect on Jan. 1,  2018, and would extend for 20 years until Dec. 31, 2037.

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Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay state legislative races

Republican Sens. Tom Lee and Bill Galvano have already won re-election, and fellow GOP incumbent Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes only face opposition from write-in candidates in their seats. Of the six Senate seats covering Hillsborough and Pinellas County, only districts 18 and 19 will be home to a new senator in the fall.

Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young is the front-runner in the SD 18 race in both polling and fundraising, though favorable district lines and robust fundraising from Democratic attorney Bob Buesing mean the race is far from over.

Through Aug. 12, Young had a comfortable lead with nearly $400,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $774,000 on hand in her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” while Buesing’s most recent report shows him with $240,000 in the bank, including nearly $100,000 in loans.

Democrats have a slight advantage in voter registrations in the Hillsborough County district, which voted plus-1 for Barack Obama four years. Young and Buesing also face no-party candidates Sheldon Upthegrove and Joe Redner, though neither candidate has seen much success in fundraising.

The SD 19 race will be decided with the Aug. 30 Democratic Primary, and as of Aug. 12, St. Petersburg attorney Augie Ribeiro held a commanding fundraising lead over Reps. Ed Narain and Darryl Rouson, as well as former Rep. Betty Reed.

Ribeiro has supplied the bulk of his own campaign funds, with more than $500,000 in loans or self-contributions since he filed June 23, though he has spent most of that money for an on hand total of $33,761. Narain and Rouson each have about $51,000 in the bank, with Reed coming in at just under $20,000.

Whether Ribeiro’s massive ad buys — he spent nearly $150,000 on media and mailers between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12 — can put him on top of his three opponents remains to be seen, though the winner of the primary should have an easy time toppling lone Republican contender John “Mr. Manners” Houman.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn and Jamie Grant and Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz have won re-election without opposition, while fellow incumbents Dan Raulerson, Chris Sprowls, Larry Ahern and Chris Latvala are all dominating their opponents on the fundraising front.

HD 69 Rep. Kathleen Peters has also turned on the afterburners in recent months to shoot past Democratic challenger Jennifer Webb, who she led by about $65,000 as of Aug. 12.

While Republican Rep. Ross Spano still leads in the HD 59 race, Democrat Rene Frazier has crossed the $100,000 on hand mark and only trails the incumbent by about $6,000.

Frazier, an attorney, still must get past schoolteacher Naze Sahebzamani in the Democratic Primary, however. As of her last report, she trailed Frazier with about $19,000 on hand.

HD 63 could also flip this cycle, as it did in 2012 and in 2014, though Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison has held on to the fundraising lead.

According to his most recent report, the two-time representative has about $116,000 in the bank compared to $84,000 for former Democratic Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione.

Montelione no longer faces primary opponent Mike Reedy, who dropped out of the race, so she and Harrison have already begun the sprint toward Election Day.

Most of the rest of the Bay Area’s seats should be decided during the Aug. 30 primary election, including who will replace Young in HD 60, Rouson in HD 70 and Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley in HD 68.

Republican Rebecca Smith has about $133,000 in the bank in the contest to take over for Young, compared to $61,000 for fellow Republican Jackie Toledo. Smith also picked up endorsements from top state level Republicans Adam Putnam and Jeff Atwater.

No matter who makes it out of the primary, they face stiff odds against lone Democratic candidate David Singer, though he has been able to amass a $67,000 war chest since filing for the seat in April.

In the HD 70 race St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton is the only candidate with money in his campaign account. His $22,000 on-hand total bests fellow Democrats CJ Czaia, who is $100 in the red, and Dan Fiorini, who has about $1,400.

Republican Cori Fournier is also running for the Democratic stronghold and has about $100 on hand.

In HD 68, Democrats Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn have been in a major spending battle, with Diamond nearly burning through all but about $14,000 of his $238,000 in fundraising thus far.

Lynn, who entered the race in May after dropping out of the CD 13 contest, has about $88,000 of his fundraising total, leaving him with about $20,000 in the bank Aug. 12.

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Jeff Brandes: The future of transportation is ‘right around the corner’

The future of transportation is autonomous. It’s electric. It’s shared and on demand.

And it will be here sooner than you think.

“The message today is it’s right around the corner,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the chairman of the Senate transportation committee.

The St. Petersburg Republican laid out his prediction for the future of transportation during the 2016 Building Florida’s Future symposium in Tampa. The event, hosted by Associated Industries of Florida and Port Tampa Bay, was a chance for industry experts and policy makers to talk about issues impacting transportation, infrastructure and economic development.

Brandes has led the effort to make sure Florida’s transportation efforts are ready for self-driving vehicles. He’s been an outspoken supporter of the technology, pushing legislation in 2012 to encourage testing and study of automated vehicles in Florida.

He also backed legislation approved earlier this year as part of an omnibus transportation bill. That legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in April, paves the way for autonomous vehicles to begin operating on Florida’s roads.

Brandes said he believes self-driving vehicles will be on the roadways soon, in part because of the safety factor. Ninety percent of accidents are caused by human errors, and Brandes said that’s why there is such a push to get these vehicles on the roadways.

“Lives are going to be saved,” he said.

But the future of transportation won’t just be self-driving vehicles, but electric vehicles, ride-sharing, and on-demand services. And while the shift to this technology may seem gradual, one day providers will show up in a community and turn on their services.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time,” he said. “We’re talking about a massive change that is going to occur.”

Florida has been trying to address the new technology, and in recent years has attempted to regulate ride-hailing services, like Uber. Those attempts, however, haven’t been successful in recent years.  And as autonomous vehicles start hitting the roadways, questions of who, or what, to license will surely emerge.

Another question lawmakers have to tackle, how to adjust funding models to account for growth in the electric vehicle industry. More electric vehicles on the roadway could translate to less money from the gas sales tax, which helps fund transportation initiatives across the state.

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Mitch Perry Report for 8.18.16 – The Affordable Care Act is getting less affordable

There’s more news about the Affordable Care Act this week, and it ain’t that good.

Aetna announced on Tuesday it would be pulling out of Florida and 10 other states next year, giving those on the government plan less options for choice here in the Sunshine State.

There have always been problems with the ACA, and they’re starting to exacerbate.

But the answer isn’t just to repeal it, like most congressional Republicans have invoked like a mantra for the past three years.

However, Democrats have got to raise their game and not just robotically defend it.

This is a test for all of our federal candidates on the ballot this fall – for David JollyCharlie CristMarco Rubio and probably, Patrick Murphy – what do you plan to do?

Hillary Clinton is calling for a “public option” for states, which would expand health insurance coverage beyond the current provisions in Obamacare. Clinton also is calling for allowing people 55 years and older to be able to enroll in Medicare. Currently, the typical age for enrollment is 65. She pledged to expand funding by $40 billion for primary care services at federally qualified health care centers.

Will that get congressional approval, especially if Republican still control the House? I have no idea, but having Washington remain at loggerheads on our health care coverage is simply not acceptable, not with costs going up everywhere (not just with the ACA) and the country only getting older, this is as big a problem we have in this country.

According to today’s New York Times, “The administration is also hunting for consumers who can deliver ‘testimonials’ advertising the benefits of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “Interested consumers could appear in television, radio, print and/or digital ads and on social media,” the administration said in an appeal sent last week to health care advocates and insurance counselors.”

The paper reports that in Tennessee, Cigna last week requested rate increases averaging 46 percent, double the request it made in June, and Humana is seeking an average increase of 44 percent, up from 29 percent in June. The other major carrier in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said it was standing by its original request for increases averaging 62 percent in 2017.

The Affordable Care Act is becoming less affordable, by the day it seems. Time for an intervention.

In other news…

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC is backing Patrick Murphy in the U.S. Senate race, and Pam Keith doesn’t like it one bit.

Victor Crist wants Jeff Brandes to know he’s not down with proposed rules that could compel Uber and Lyft to leave Hillsborough County.

Speaking of Brandes, the St. Petersburg state Senator and co-sponsor of Amendment 4 on this month’s ballot takes exception to criticism of the proposal made by one Al Sharpton.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is crushing Tim Canova in their CD 23 race in South Florida, according to a new poll published on Wednesday.

And more endorsements: Frank Peterman is supporting Wengay Newton for the job he once held – representing House District 70 in Tallahassee (It was District 55 when he was in office, for what it’s worth).

And the Florida Education Association is backing Ben Diamond in the House District 68 contest.

The Dept. of Children and Families says that New Beginnings of Tampa did no wrong back in 2008, the second government investigation that has cleared the group after a series of damning articles were published by the Tampa Bay Times in late 2014.

Hillsborough County makes a move to preempt any civil unrest if things go sour between law enforcement and the community.

 

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Victor Crist slams Hillsborough PTC’s proposed ‘onerous rules’

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission moved closer to implementing rules with that have drawn the ire of ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft. Also displeased: the PTC’s chair, Victor Crist.

The PTC’s Rules and Policy Committee passed some measures at its meeting on Tuesday, including a ban on surge pricing in times of a declared emergency and background checks that require fingerprinting, a mandate Uber specifically has said is a deal breaker.

The new rules were approved by the committee on a 2-1 vote. They’re scheduled to be discussed again at the next Rules & Policy Committee meeting Sept. 1 and are scheduled to be voted on at the PTC’s regular board meeting on Sept. 14.

In a letter penned to Jeff Brandes, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman in the Florida Legislature, Crist repeats that he is vehemently opposed to the rules.

“The proposal I had worked out with the rideshare industry that died last month in a 5-1 vote against me, would have opened the door for ridesharing, Uber, and Lyft through commonsense public safety rules that they would have agreed to and followed,” Crist writes in the letter. “The public safety rules I had worked out with them were very close to what this board was demanding. “

“Unfortunately, the PTC Board is moving in a different direction by trying to pass regulatory rules that are overreaching that they know these two companies will not accept or be able to adhere to.”

Brandes is a huge enthusiast for Uber and Lyft and has been critical of the PTC’s actions in citing their drivers since they began operating in the county in the spring of 2014. In the past, he’s advocated legislation that would eliminate the PTC, the only agency of its type in the state of Florida created by a special act of the Legislature back in the 1970s.

Attempts to regulate ridesharing companies at the state level have been unsuccessful in recent years, leaving it to local governments to craft ordinances to bring the companies into compliance. In April, the Palm Beach County Commission passed new rules that require both ridesharing companies and taxis to be responsible for conducting their own background checks or hiring the county to do the more comprehensive and costly fingerprint-based “Level II” checks for them.

In Broward County, both Uber and Lyft ceased operations last summer for a few months when their new rules required fingerprint-based background checks. Only when the Broward County Commission relented last fall did the two companies began operating again there.

Crist says he wants to meet soon with Brandes. The two had a celebrated “beer summit” a year ago to try to come to terms.

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Jeff Brandes disagrees with Al Sharpton’s critique of Amendment 4

Unlike that other solar power constitutional amendment that Floridians will decide on in the fall, seemingly everyone supports Amendment Four, the only ballot measure on this month’s primary ballot. Virtually everyone that is, except Al Sharpton.

The New York City-based activist and MSNBC host bashed the measure while making an appearance last week in Opa-Locka. Amendment Four would create a tax exemption for businesses who use solar power, the same type of exemption that homeowners have enjoyed when using solar for the past three years.

“The beneficiaries of this are big businesses who, if they paid their tax on this, it would go toward helping schools from local counties and cities that claim they don’t have the budget,” Sharpton said. “It would go to the areas of social services that you claim you don’t have the budget. So you can’t at one end say we would be doing a lot of these things that are needed in the inner-city communities in Miami, in Tampa, in Orlando, but then turn around and say we’re going to give Big Business a break.”

“I think it’s the exact opposite,” responds St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes, one of the co-sponsors of the measure. “It really helps public schools and it helps all the businesses to diversify their energy, to install solar panels on top of their roofs, or other renewable energy devices, and I think the entire community is going to benefit from that, both in terms of jobs it creates to install and maintain those facilities, that without this amendment, will not exist in Florida for many years to come.”

The bipartisan measure was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature this past spring, where it must get 60 percent support from the public to pass (Fort Myers Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman were the co-sponsors in the House).

Sharpton’s criticism was notable in that his voice is one of the very few to speak out against the measure, which is by virtually every major newspaper in the state.

That’s unlike Amendment One, the other solar power constitutional amendment that Floridians will vote on later this year that is shrouded in controversy. Although the measure passed scrutiny with the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year, it was blasted by Justice Barbara Parenti, who wrote in her dissent that the measure was “masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

There is one Florida-based group that has announced their opposition to Amendment Four. A political action committee called Stop Playing Favorites was created earlier this month in opposition to the measure. Conservative activist Jason Hoyt says his group’s goal is to discourage Florida lawmakers and voters from creating carve-outs while picking winners and losers in the economy.

That group is somewhat of an outlier, however. Senator Brandes calls it “amazing” how so many different groups are actively backing Amendment Four.

“We have faith-based communities. We have the environmental community. We have the business community, all aligned behind this proposal,” he said in Tampa on Tuesday, shortly before appearing at a transportation forum hosted by HART.”It’s one of the first times I’ve seen something as momentous as this move through with this much grassroots support. We’re excited. We think the numbers are there. My constituents want more solar; they want access to solar energy. They want to see businesses using solar in the Sunshine State, and this amendment, Amendment Four, gives that to them.”

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Direct mail round-up: Flyer says Augie Ribeiro not a true Democrat, has no Florida law license

Listen to Augie Ribeiro talk, hear his ads or read his campaign literature and two themes stand out: Ribeiro is an attorney who fights for the little guy and he’s the only “true Democrat” in the race for state Senate District 19.

But a flyer that landed in Democratic mailboxes Monday — the first day of early voting in Pinellas — tells voters just to hold on. Ribeiro, it says, is not only not a true Democrat, he wasn’t even a Democrat until 29 months ago. And, worse, he has no Florida law license. And, although it does not use the term “carpetbagger,” the flyer says multimillionaire Ribeiro is a “New York lawyer” who “thinks he can buy an election.”

Augie Ribiero with Hillary Clinton“Like [Gov.] Rick Scott, now he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and wants to be your voice in Tallahassee,” the flyer says.

The mailing is a product of the Ed Narain-connected political action committee “Floridians for Principled Leadership.” Narain, Ribeiro, Darryl Rouson and Betty Reed are facing off for SD 19 in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman in the Nov. 8 general election.

“If someone’s going to make an allegation that I’m not a true Democrat, that’s a little surprising to me,” Ribeiro said Tuesday.

That’s because, Ribeiro said, he has impeccable Democratic credentials. Not only did he support President Barack Obama, but he’s also been on Hillary Clinton’s Florida finance team since before she became an official candidate.

And, Ribeiro said, state Democrats heavily recruited him to run for the state Senate seat held by Republican Jeff Brandes. He didn’t run because redistricting excluded him from the district.

So, instead, he decided to run for the District 19 seat held by Arthenia Joyner, who is terming out. That, he said, upset some party leaders.

“You can’t tell me I’m not a Democrat,” he said.

Ribeiro concedes he has no license to practice law in Florida although he’s admitted to the bar in Connecticut and New York. He is also admitted to the federal bar.

But, Ribeiro said that, in the lawsuit over the BP oil spill, he represented local cities — St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island — and Tampa municipal subdivisions — Raymond James Stadium, the Florida Aquarium, golf courses and others — as well as local nonprofits. He did that because he had local attorneys on the case, which was tried in a federal court in Louisiana. He filed a special appearance in that court, he said.

That’s similar to a lawsuit filed against General Motors, which made use of local attorneys. The federal trial was in New York.

Augie Ribeiro with Obama“I never claimed to have a local practice or be soliciting local clients,” Ribeiro said.

Ribeiro conceded his success at suing big companies has made him wealthy. The flyer and his financial declaration indicate he’s worth about $29 million.

And he’s spent about $300,000 on his campaign, according to the flyer.

It’s true, Ribeiro said, that he has been able to finance his campaign because of his own wealth and the generosity of relatives and friends. That was the goal — to avoid taking money from special interests.

“I think it’s hard to be in the state Legislature and bite the hand that feeds you. I won’t be bought,” Ribeiro said. “I don’t want to be beholden to the special interests that have taken control of the Legislature.”

Anti-Ribeiro Flyer Anti-Ribeiro flyer 1

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Jeff Vinik, Jeff Brandes discuss future of Tampa Bay transportation at HART summit

In the future of transportation in Hillsborough County, buses and rail may be taking a back seat to autonomous vehicles and other cutting-edge technologies.

Although the Hillsborough Area Transit Authority (HART) primarily offers bus service, buses weren’t the focus of attention at the “State of Transit” event Tuesday at CAMLS in downtown Tampa.

Nor should they have been, as the theme of the day was “Beyond the Bus.”

No speaker in the hour-plus session was more visionary on transportation’s future in the Bay area than St. Petersburg GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes. He talked enthusiastically about the growth of ride-sharing and the eventual employment of autonomous vehicles in the region.

Brandes lightly referenced issues that the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has had in dealing with Uber and Lyft, but said that those companies are “revolutionizing” transportation.

“The paradigm of transit is changing,” Brandes told the crowd. “We have to think of transit as an organism.”

The future could include riding in a driverless Uber or Lyft car at a cost of 40 or 50 cents a mile, he added.

“That’s cheaper than I’ve ever been able to provide human transportation in the history of time,” Brandes gushed.

Such a future would be bigger than the smartphone, he said, and would radically change our cities. The future of transit will be based on four things: electric, autonomous, on-demand and shared.

“As a policymaker and as somebody who watches the budget, I can tell you thinking about autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles coming online at the same time is really interesting, but electric vehicles create their own set of challenges,” he said.

It would require rethinking the current model of how government funds transportation, he said, bringing up the fact that the importance of the gas tax could be affected since electric vehicles don’t use gas.

HART board chair and Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez began his remarks by saying robust transportation would provide freedom of choice for the citizenry. He extolled that freedom of transit choices he said he recently experienced while visiting Philadelphia.

“We want to make sure that people have that same choice, and that same freedom,” Suarez said about the Hillsborough region. Such a possibility means that Hillsborough County and the Legislature needed to kick in more funds to provide more service.

“Public dollars has always been a big part of public transit, in every part of the country, not just here,” Suarez emphasized. Without that investment, he said, “we cannot provide the kind of freedom that people want.”

In his short but impactful time on the scene in Tampa, Channelside developer and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has become one of the city’s biggest ambassadors, while he works to recruit national companies to reside in the $2 billion planned development between his Strategic Property Partners and Cascade Investments.

Vinik said he was agnostic about what mode of transportation should be added to the area, but emphasized it will be the most important element in determining where Tampa and Hillsborough County will be as a community 10 to 20 years from now.

“Obviously, there have been some failed referendums over the last several years in this area,” Vinik said. “The good news is that we’re discussing transportation.”

Vinik added he’s excited about the upcoming 18-24 month “premium transit” study HART is about to conduct, as well as a 12- to 18-month study on the expansion of the Tampa Streetcar.

HART CEO Katherine Eagan (pictured above) kicked off her 15-minute presentation by generating guffaws as she described the Tampa Streetcar as “the nation’s smallest light-rail system.”

Upon hearing some groans when referring to the controversial Tampa Bay Express project, Eagan said, “You don’t have to like it to acknowledge how we’re talking about transportation.”

She also admitted HART is constrained by the funding they have, but said it wasn’t stopping the company’s innovation and imagination. And, she said, buses would not be the main solution to the county’s transit issues.

Eagan introduced the HART HyperLINK program, created to resolve the “first-mile, last-mile” issue. Working with Transdev, it’s considering a complement to existing bus service to provide access to a reservation call center and a smartphone app for customers which will allow real-time ride-sharing matching and rider incentives.

HART officials say the pilot program will begin in October and focus first on three select bus stops. Residents living within a three-mile radius of those stops will have the opportunity to try the program. The subsidized ride shares will cost residents $3 each way.

Eagan said once it was successful in Hillsborough County, it might go nationwide. It will start in the university area of Tampa, expanding to Brandon, and go on from there.

 

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Victor Crist said ethics complaint was meant to intimidate PTC board

As was reported on Monday, the Florida Commission on Ethics cleared Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist late last month of any conflict of interest charges last month, citing a “lack of legal sufficiency.”

The claim of an ethics violation was made by Louis Minardi, the owner of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa. Minardi obtained affidavits from representatives from three other cab companies and his own son who said that they overheard conversations with Crist in which he acknowledged his wife needs the goodwill of St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes to get state grants.

Brandes has been critical of the PTC for years. Crist’s wife Angela works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government.

On Tuesday, Crist said the complaint was always bogus, and was intended to intimidate the rest of the PTC board to drop their support for the latest iteration of rule changes that he says he had worked tirelessly on leading up the to the agency’s June general board meeting.”It was an overstretch and inappropriate for them to make the complaints that they did because they were false and deceptive,” he said of the cab company representatives allegation. “I believe they were made not to penalize me, because they had to know that these were false accusations that wouldn’t have any muster. They did them to intimidate my board, and I think it was the final straw that did.”

But the board voted down the proposal on a 4-1 vote, with Crist the lone supporter.

“That was a shock to me,” he admits. “I knew (Guido) Mansicalso and (Ken) Hagan were supportive, and Hagan didn’t show at the meeting, and Maniscaco stayed quiet and didn’t say a word…when I looked around I was shocked. I was the only yes vote. It was clear that the the intimidation factor worked.”

When contacted on Tuesday, Maniscalco denied that the ethics complaint had anything to do with his vote opposing the rule changes. “That was just coincidence,” he says.”In my mind, it made no difference whether there was a complaint or not, I think the decision would have been made the same.”

At that June board meeting, Temple Terrace City Councilman David Pogorilich told Crist, “there’s no agreement, so there’s nothing for us to approve or disapprove.” He went on to say that, “personally, I don’t think that we should putting the PTC’s name on something just to say, ‘well, it’s less crappy than it was before. To me, that’s not compromise. That’s giving up.”

Crist says he’s hopeful that the board and the ridesharing companies will get behind two proposals on background checks for drivers that Commissioner Al Higginbotham will be presenting at the PTC meeting on Wednesday.

One of them will include a full background check for drivers – including mandatory fingerprinting , and one that doesn’t, Higginbotham says. Officials with Uber have previously said they object to fingerprinting their drivers.

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Ethics Commission dismisses Tampa cab owner’s complaint against Victor Crist

Citing a “lack of legal sufficiency,” the Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint made against Hillsborough Public Transportation Commissioner Chairman Victor Crist.

The complaint was made by Louis Minardi, president of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa. He said that Crist had revealed a conflict of interest in his role as the chair of the PTC involving the current negotiations with the cab companies and transportation network companies Uber and Lyft. The claim specifically involved Crist’s wife, Angela, who works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government. Minardi obtained affidavits from representatives from three other cab companies and his own son who said that they overheard conversations with Crist in which he acknowledged his wife needs the goodwill of Tampa Bay area state legislators like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant to get state grants. Brandes and Grant have been critical of the PTC for years.

But the Commission issued their review on July 29 dismissing the complaint, saying that it “failed to constitute a legally sufficient complaint.”

“I believe in an open deliberative process, I don’t deny anybody their right to the process,” said Crist. “I think it was an overstretch and inappropriate for them to make the complaints that they did, because they were false and deceptive.”

It was the second win by Crist over the cab companies this summer. In May, three taxi cab companies in Tampa (including Minardi’s Yellow Cab) filed a petition in Hillsborough County Court to have Crist removed from participating in the rule-making proceedings after he called to abolish the PTC, but the 2nd District Court of Appeals rejected that petition in June. 

Menardi said he wasn’t surprised that the Ethics Commission ruled against his complaint, but said it was still worth filing.

“He went before Brook Nagusei, Rob Searcy, Justin Morgaman and my son Isiah, and said he’s gotta get something done because his wife has grants and stuff in Tallahassee and he was worried about Brandes,” Minardi recalled on Sunday afternoon. “Whether that’s true or not, that’s exactly what he was telling them.”

The Ethics Commission says only two of those four men made reference to Crist talking about grant funding. Those two (they are not specified) quoted Crist as saying, “I have to get off the PTC by November because my wife’s efforts to get grant funding are being held up by Brandes.”

The Ethics report goes on to say that the affidavits :

“(d)o not reflect that the Respondent (Crist) stated that he voted in a particular way to help his wife obtain a grant, and it would be speculative to draw such a conclusion. Even were that conclusion to be drawn, nothing in the materials suggests that the Respondent’s wife would personally benefit from the grant, as opposed to the alleged employer, the John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government. It is not a violation of the voting conflict law to vote in a mamner that benefits only the employer of one’s spouse. Accordingly, the complain is legally insufficient to allege a violation of Section 112.3143, Florida Statutes.

In his compliant, Minardi has also alleged that Crist made a comment to representatives from the taxicab companies that, “I am the best for you guys because I am the only one willing to pay you money for your permits and have arranged for a loan from the county to do so.”

The Commission ruled that comment was not a possible violation of Section 112.313(6) of the Florida Statutes, “because it is not inconsistent with the proper performance of public duty for an elected or appointed officer to speak to members of the public about issues before the officers’s board to harbor policy views (or policy prejudices).”

 

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